The Toronto Raptors played their first of five pre-season games on Sunday night, squaring off with the Los Angeles Clippers at the Stan Sheriff Centre on the University of Hawaii campus in Honolulu. We saw Raptors GM Bobby Webster and head coach Dwane Casey in matching Hawaiian shirts, the first-glimpse at what could be Toronto’s starting five, and a whole lot more. Here are takeaways from Sunday night’s 121-113 Raptors win:
Starting lineup sneak peek?
With the pre-season shortened this year, neither team wasted any time and put what are most likely their starting lineups on the floor to start the game. For the Clippers, newcomers Patrick Beverly and Danilo Galinari joined Austin Rivers, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. For the Raptors, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas started. There is a little more debate over who the Raptors may start once these games matter, but if Sunday is any indication Norman Powell may be a better asset coming off the bench.
Miles spaced the floor nicely alongside the Raptors other presumptive starters (there is a school of thought that Valanciunas may be better off as a reserve, much like in the 2017 playoffs versus Milwaukee, but the presence of Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira could make for a logjam at backup centre).
On Sunday night a bench unit of Powell, Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, and Lucas Nogueira logged heavy minutes to varying results. Following a promising performance in the team’s intrasquad scrimmage, Casey may have expected Cabocolo to be comfortable competing against the Clippers — he’s played pick-up games in Los Angeles with the likes of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for three straight summers. But the 22 year-old Brazilian struggled in this one, missing a number of open threes, and committing a pair of egregious turnovers.
You can expect one of DeRozan or Lowry to be on the floor with whomever Casey rolls with off the bench once the season starts, but on this night the group’s frontcourt struggled to score. Wright had an efficient 11 points on 4-5 shooting, but it was Powell who’s 16 points buoyed the lineup. He shared the court with the starters when the Clippers went with a smaller lineup, but Powell’s ability to generate offence and carry the scoring load for stretches could be what cements his status as the club’s sixth man while Miles steps into the starting five.
Powell was at it again, by the way, following up his nasty intrasquad jam with this tomahawk:
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 2, 2017
Green means go
The green light shone bright — for both teams — on Sunday night. As the Raptors coaches and players had promised since last season came to abrupt end, the Raptors made a clear effort to let it fly from beyond the arc early and often. On one first quarter possession, Ibaka forced (and bricked) a three-point attempt, Valanciunas grabbed the offensive board and in one motion tossed the ball into the corner where C.J. Miles nailed a quick-release contested three. Lowry followed with a quick three-pointer a couple possessions later, and then moments after that swished another early-shot clock three. The green light shone bright— for both teams— on Sunday night. It wasn’t all pretty: One stretch late in the second quarter saw the Raptors brick three triples in a row.
All told, the Raptors attempted 43 three-pointers but only hit eleven of them, shooting a paltry 25.6 per cent from deep. Lowry was 3-4 from beyond the arc. Ibaka was aggressive in his shooting, but knocked down just one of his nine three-point attempts.
The Raptors defensive rotations were an issue Sunday, particularly in the first-half. From the opening tip, the Clippers swung the ball and found open cutters on the baseline — thanks in part to some eagerness on Raps biting on pump-fakes — and hit a succession of open threes. When they hit the court, the team’s second-unit had a real hard time locating and containing DeAndre Jordan in transition and on pick and rolls, something that was most likely a big part of the scouting report.
Work in progress
For a club emphasizing ball movement as the season approaches, far too many possessions featured, or began with, DeRozan or Lowry holding the ball for long periods of time before passing it out or making their move to generate a shot. Breaking out of habit may be the biggest challenge in implementing an offence more heavily focused on ball movement, as the Raptors are trying to do.
At one point Lowry and DeRozan were on the floor with a trio of reserves — Caboclo, Nogueira, and Siakam — and DeRozan was DeRozan as the lead ballhandler, to middling results. On one possession he coughed up the ball after holding it for a little too long at the top of the key as a triple-team came. On the next play he over-dribbled as the shot clock expired. But there were some moments where we saw him drive, draw defenders, and kick out to an open shooter, something we’re bound to see a lot more of in the future.
Shades of the same Clippers
Despite a whopping 11 new players on the roster, some elements of the Clippers looked similar thanks to 30 year-old rookie Milos Teodosic, the pass-first point guard who will transition nicely to the NBA. The pairing with Jordan and Griffin is nice and a luxury for any incoming point guard, but Teodosic’s court-vision and passing ability should mean the continuation of lob city despite the departure of Chris Paul to Houston. Facing Toronto’s second-unit, the Euroleague veteran picked the team apart with his passing as the Raps struggled to defend the pick-and-roll. In fairness, a lot of teams would struggle with this:
• One of the players I was eager to see in action, Jakob Poeltl, didn’t get on to the floor until midway through the fourth quarter. Casey elected to go with Lucas Nogeuira as his backup centre on Sunday, but I’d expect the second-year big man out of Austria via Utah to get way more burn when these two teams meet again on Tuesday. A deep bench unit of Poeltl, Fred Van Vleet, and three players competing for one of two roster spots—Alfonzo McKinnie, Andy Rautins, and Kyle Wiltjer—gave the Raptors good minutes down the stretch, at one point extending their lead to double figures. Van Vleet was particularly steady and posted a +8 in 11 minutes along with eight points, three boards, two assists, and a steal.
• Clippers all-star Blake Griffin looked great in limited action. He was physical attacking the basket and smooth when extending his shooting range. He led Los Angeles in scoring with 18, including a pair of triples. Danilo Galinari and Lou Williams each chipped in with 17 points apiece.
• For those looking for Valanciunas to be utilized differently this season, don’t hold your breath based on Sunday’s action. He was solid, posted a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds in twenty minutes, but didn’t see many touches, hitting four of his five field goal attempts.
The Raptors and Clippers will have a re-match in Hawaii on Tuesday night.